night terror causes

Sleep Paralysis, Night Terrors, Nightmares: Causes and Differences

Night terrors, sleep paralysis, and nightmares can be linked because they have similar symptoms and causes. However, these usually unwanted events have distinct differences.

Of late, night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, have become quite common. They can sometimes be mistaken for nightmares or sleep paralysis. Here are the differences:


Sleep Paralysis: Finding yourself unable to move, in a state of paralysis, while waking or falling asleep.

Night Terrors: Periods or episodes of fearful screaming, flailing, and seeming panic while sleeping.

Nightmares: A terrifying, or very unpleasant dream.


Night Terrors vs. Sleep Paralysis

Sleep terrors are more prevalent in children while sleep paralysis usually sets on in adolescence and persists into adulthood.

When it comes to night terrors, in most cases, the child doesn’t remember the event. On the other hand, and an adult who experiences sleep paralysis can remember every detail of the occurrence.

Night terrors happen more often during the slow-wave sleep, which is during the early parts of the night. During this time, the child is usually in a deep sleep and difficult to arouse.

In the contrary, sleep paralysis commonly occurs towards the morning during REM sleep.

night terrors in toddlers

Night Terrors vs. Nightmares

As mentioned above, sleep terrors are more common with kids, while nightmares can occur to anyone, including children and adults.

While it’s hard for a child to remember an episode of sleep terrors, nightmares can easily be recalled even by children. If a child had a nightmare, they would want to discuss it with their parents for reassurance.

As pointed out earlier, night terrors occur during the heavy slow-wave sleep early in the night while on the other hand, nightmares occur during REM sleep as morning approaches. You surely have had instances in the morning where someone woke you up out on a horrible nightmare.

What Causes Night Terrors?

You must know that sleep terrors aren’t in any way, a disease. Therefore, sometimes there might be no underlying medical issues that can make someone have night terrors. In children, it is regarded as part of the normal developmental stage of childhood. Despite this, some factors can increase the frequency of night terrors both in children and adults.

Night terror causes include:

  • Extreme tiredness and sleep deprivation
  • Fever
  • Stress
  • Disruptions and interruptions of a sleep schedule due to travel or any other factor

These causes can also cause sleep paralysis and nightmares.

Other causes for these unwanted nighttime events can also include:

  • Anxiety
  • Some Medications
  • Alcohol / Drugs
  • Sleep Disorder

For adults, night terrors are usually triggered by some underlying conditions, which include:

  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Mood disorders like anxiety and depression
  • Sleep-disordered breathing, which is a group of disorders that leads to abnormal sleep breathing patterns. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of these disorders and can also affect children though it’s more common in adults.

Moreover, sleep terrors occur more commonly in people who have a family history of the condition. Nightmares can also lead to night terrors.

night terrors in babies

Night Terrors in Babies

According to reliable statistics, it is estimated that 36.9 % of children above 18 months suffer from night terrors at one point in their childhood. 19.7 % of children between 18 months and 30 months also experience at least more than one episode of sleep terrors.

Between the ages of 4 and 12 years, a child can have several repeated episodes of sleep terror spread over time. Some reports suggest that the condition is more common in girls, while others suggest the same for boys. The prevalence of night terror is much lower in adults, at only 2.2 %.

Signs and Symptoms of Night Terrors in Babies:

As babies are the most affected by sleep terrors, you as a parent or guardian must understand the signs and symptoms that they might portray.

Night terrors in babies causes may include:

  • A child suddenly sitting up in bed as they sleep
  • A child shouting and screaming in distress during their sleep
  • The child would be excessively sweating in their sleep
  • The child would thrash around in bed during sleep
  • The child would look scared or upset during sleep.
  • Sleep terrors in children can last a few minutes, or even longer, after which the child would calm down and probably go back to sleep.

Night Terrors Treatment

You should know that there are no specified treatments for sleep terrors, whether for a child or an adult.

Despite this, it advisable that one visits a doctor if the night terrors:

  • Go on beyond the teen years. This is because sleep terrors are expected to end at the onset of adolescence for most children naturally.
  • Begin in adulthood, which is really not supposed to be the case. If this happens, it might be indicative of another condition probably related to mental health.
  • Follow the same pattern as night terrors are supposed to be random. If you happen to have sleep terrors after a specific time in bed, then it might also be indicative of another problem such as a sleep breathing disorder.
  • In some extreme cases, if an individual or child is experiencing sleep terrors, they might find it hard to sleep. They should see the doctor for assistance.
  • Results in dangerous behavior that might lead to injury. If the person with condition ends up sleepwalking, this might be dangerous to their well-being.
  • If the sleep terrors make it difficult for the child or individual to sleep soundly through the night; it’s also likely to affect the sound sleep other family members.

how to stop night terrors

How to Stop Night Terrors

Though there might be no night terrors treatment for kids and also adults, there are some steps that you can take to try and stop the episodes.

Here’s how to stop night terrors. For children as a parent, you can:

  • Try to ensure that your child experiences little to no stress during the day. Reduced stress levels will significantly reduce the frequency of night terrors.
  • Help your kid stick to a regular bedtime routine. Don’t let them stay up till late in the night.
  • Try to keep your child from becoming overly tired by ensuring they get enough rest during the day.
  • Combining these practices can help completely stop your child’s night terrors.

For adults:

  • You can take medication for some hours before going to bed.
  • Seek treatment for any mood disorders that you might be suffering from.
  • Cut down on your alcohol use.
  • Find remedies for sleep-disordered breathing.
  • Keep in mind that night terrors are not a disease but just condition that can easily be mitigated in the ways mentioned above. If the tips mentioned above don’t work, it’s time to go to the doctor for assistance.

How to Stop Sleep Paralysis and Nightmares

As they have similar causes, applying the steps above can also help stop many unwanted nighttime events.

Here are some more ideas from the article How to Stop Sleep Paralysis: 7 Great Ideas:

  1. Learn more about them
  2. Reduce stress and anxiety before bed
  3. Focus and strive for more and better quality sleep
  4. Talk to others about your problem and ask for help
  5. Try different sleeping positions
  6. Avoid caffeine in the evenings
  7. Try soothing sounds on low
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